"Raam's Shadow" is the first story-based piece of DLC for Gears of War 3 which sets up events early in the series while also allowing players to briefly take on the role of the lethal face of the horde, the knife-wielding General Raam. As a fan, I was looking forward to digging deeper into the admittedly brawn-over-brains storytelling of Gears, but neglected opportunities in fleshing out the narrative as well as the experience of playing as the title character made this piece of DLC less than I'd hoped for.
The two to three hour campaign for "Raam's Shadow" takes place before the first Gears of War shortly after E-Day and the subterranean assaults by the Locust on the people of the planet Sera. The perspective shifts from the four-person squad in Zeta team as they attempt to save refugees who are in danger following the attack and Raam who has been tasked with establishing Seeder emplacements that spew out the swarms of the inky, carnivorous creatures called Kryll. The DLC also includes several new character skins as well as 250 new Achievement points.
Raam is a scary, dangerous, fun tank to play... at first
Raam—who easily stands about a half character size taller than the human cast—comes equipped with two basic moves: a charge attack (similar to the bayonet on the Classic Lancer) that allows you to skewer nearby enemies and your primary attack which sends a swarm of Kryll at your human targets, attacking them until there's nothing left but gristle and blood on the battlefield. His move set and maneuverability is pretty limited, but then again playing as the very-hard-to-kill Raam, you won't exactly be required to take much in the way of evasive maneuvers.
Varied weapon selection for the short campaign
Given the short campaign length, it's surprising how effectively "Raam's Shadow" packs in pretty much the entirety of the Gears 3 arsenal for your squad to use. While ammo for weapons like the Torque Bow were, as ever, at a premium, it was still nice to be able to mix it up in terms of deploying ordnance against the Locusts in the field.
Playing as Raam, the scary, dangerous tank gets boring quickly
Again, playing as Raam lets you feel like a dangerous, tank-like badass before you hit on the fact that you are, in effect, in a couple of two-legged vehicle sequences with some annoyed VO by the Locust Queen. Of all the elements of this DLC I was most excited about, it was playing as one of the Locust horde, the but the scope of the two sequences where you get to play as this dangerous killer are so incredibly, mind-numbingly narrow and after you've listened to Raam grunt and growl his way through the battlefield, shove a car out of the way, or directed a swarm of Kryll to attack a faceless COG for the tenth time, it kind of becomes a blur.
Feels weirdly out of place in the series chronology
The story essentially presents Gears of War 0.5, taking place before the events of the first game while introducing players to Jace, one of the new recruits in 3 and traveling so far back into the series history it feels like a missed opportunity to expand or explore the fiction. As I mentioned above, Raam strains at even being two-dimensional and it's not like we're getting any kind of extension or expansion of the overall story or revealing any mysteries about this world. Coming out after the pretty final conclusion of Gears 3, it offers nothing new in terms of mythology or building and developing the world or story.
While Gears has never really been known as a combat sandbox, the franchise has nonetheless allowed a good deal of flexibility in where you can post up and flank enemies during encounters. Perhaps due to the nature of the current story, however, it feels like when playing as Zeta team you're frequently under siege and on the defensive, with enemies rushing your squad from two to three corners while indoors engagements feel even more cramped and corridor shooter-like than normal. While this does add somewhat to the feel of desperation, it also creates the sense that the scenario is either trapping you for "Horde-lite" endurance challenges or shoving you quickly through a hallway or city street in a sprint to get to the end of the campaign.
Let's put it this way: if you're a Gears completist who simply has to know about a narrow sliver of the overall story's history, then "Raam's Shadow" is an essential purchase. However, for the average fan of the series, the cramped, restrictive levels and "Horde-lite" feel of the combat might hold a little less appeal.
"Raam's Shadow" is available now via Xbox Live for 1200 MSP or as part of the Gears 3 Season Pass for 2400 MSP.